400,000 students could be turned away from California's community colleges next fall

 
San Francisco Chronicle
 
An unprecedented 400,000 students could be turned away from California's community college campuses next fall because state lawmakers are letting billions of dollars in taxes expire in June that would otherwise protect courses, Community College Chancellor Jack Scott said Wednesday.

Pointing to budget talks that stalled this week in Sacramento - and the resulting failure of Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to let voters decide whether to extend and increase taxes - Scott said he expects the state to reduce its allocation to the college system by $800 million, nearly 10 percent of its total budget.

Voter approval of the taxes would have raised about $13 billion, resolving half of the state's $26 billion budget deficit. Democrats backed Brown's plan but were unable to persuade at least four Republicans to join them to meet the two-thirds majority required to place a tax measure on the ballot.

The Legislature has not yet decided how to make up the difference, so it's not clear that cuts to the college system would actually double from the $400 million reduction already planned by lawmakers.

Nor is eliminating courses the only way to make ends meet, said Steve Boilard, director of higher education with the Legislative Analyst's Office. For example, community colleges could impose a second fee hike on top of next fall's increase, he said. The price is rising to $36 per unit, from $26.

Yet higher fees can also be a barrier to college, educators said.

If 400,000 students are locked out of community college as Scott predicts, it would be roughly the same number as are enrolled in the entire California State University system.

"This is a tremendous tragedy, and a very deep blow to the economy of California," Scott said, describing community colleges as the "No. 1 workforce training institution" in the state.
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